Apple Music exclusives: An insider’s view

472 shares

Sean GlassSean Glass (pictured inset) is a lot of things. He’s an indie label founder at Win Music (Duke Dumont, Flight Facilities, Tiga). He’s a producer/remixer. And, until recently, he was an Apple Music employee, working on original content and Connect since its launch. Here, in an incisive blog, he responds to two headline-grabbing recent events in the music business: (i) A backlash against Apple Music exclusives from Spotify and other quarters; and (ii) A reported memo from Universal Music Group boss Lucian Grainge to his execs this week ‘ending all future exclusives’. (In the same few days that Frank Ocean’s Blonde was put out as… an Apple Music exclusive.)


Frank Ocean’s album is out, what do you think? Who got that zine? Mine is sitting unopened, framed on my wall right now.

In addition to what we already knew about it, this album will be historic for an unexpected reason.

It will be, allegedly, Universal’s final exclusive.

Having been deeply involved in all of this, I have lots of feelings. I have been at Apple since before launch, but I left recently, so while I still can’t talk about details, I can share my opinions on these issues that are already public knowledge.

I have no loyalties here.

I’m no longer employed, I have no horse in this race. But I fully support Apple as the leader and only relevant party.


Summary:

  1. I’m not in favor of exclusives, I’m in favor of the work and value Apple is putting into music right now;
  2. Exclusives are easily and cheaply accessible, often free;
  3. Fan complaining about exclusives refuse to spend $10 per month on music. Otherwise, it’s the major labels complaining;
  4. Exclusives provide incredible, unprecedented value for artists + fans;
  5. Exclusives provide little value to major labels;
  6. Exclusives at Apple come from one guy working directly with artists, and putting invaluable creative energy into every release;
  7. Apple is the only company doing this, so this is not a fight against exclusives, this is a fight against Apple;
  8. Exclusives are not the problem – major labels owning the streaming services and all of their playlist functionality is. Indies are powerless;
  9. When majors own everything, we all lose because music sounds the same.

Conceptually, limiting the spread of music is bad. No brainer.

Would it be really cool if Apple did all this awesome stuff without requiring exclusives? Sure, I also want Frank Ocean to release two albums in two days to make up for the wait (oh, right, that happened).

But that’s not realistic. And the end result is more value to the artist and consumer, which I consider a good thing.


Contrary to what you read, there’s no scary Apple board room conspiracy where corporate is plotting to take over creativity via artist exclusives.

There’s one guy who is behind ALL of these campaigns — and he is light years ahead of everyone else. He works intimately with each artist as a creative peer, and develops an amazing plan, this is no simple land grab. He works closer with the artists than labels do.

“Contrary to what you read, there’s no scary apple board room conspiracy where corporate is plotting to take over creativity.”

He’s building a club, or a “community” as we like to say. Everyone is invited, at a very low cost.

If you’re in, you are not complaining about exclusives.

Those complaining about exclusives are not participating which means refusing to pay $10 a month for music, so why are we letting them get airtime?


Why are we backing up Spotify here in contrast?

They have never invested in artist’s content, and are now renegotiating their rates to pay artists LESS than they already were.

Apple is paying higher royalties, and investing tens of millions in content that artists could never create without them.

I hate to even mention Tidal, but the simple comparison here is that Tidal is a reductive strategy, withholding the music from anyone who does not subscribe to something unrelated to the consumption of the music, and providing zero added value.

Apple always pairs exclusives with some exciting added content. It’s like startup economics, you’re either leveraging equity or cash.

Tidal is giving artists equity, but that does not get passed to the fan.

Apple is giving artists cash, which gets translated to content, and delivered back to the fan.


Go backwards and examine every single Apple Music exclusive that’s come out.

Each has been paired with an amazing campaign, full of content and experiences that just simply would not have happened without Apple’s involvement.

  • Frank Ocean’s rollout was historic — two albums, a film, a livestream, a pop-up, a zine, etc.
  • Drake, you got sooooo much…Hotline Bling video, OVO Sound Radio, etc.
  • The 1975, had a fully produced concert film on a rooftop in DTLA, and tons of access to the artist in Beats1 interviews.
  • Dre and Straight Outta Compton was a wild experience last summer, constant content and excitement.
  • There was a feature length Taylor Swift documentary.
  • Khaled.

What a time to be alive. #WATTBA


There are many smaller, developing artists working on these as well, notably the Anderson Paak documentary, without any exclusives even.

There were TONS of music videos that I can’t go into detail about, but just would not have existed without Apple’s involvement.

These aren’t situations where Apple was just paying for things. There’s intimate creative involvement from the Apple side, down to actually directing videos.

Labels are rarely involved.

“Kanye didn’t care how many streams he got from TLOP, because he’s doing millions of $$$ a day in merch and touring.”

I think that’s where we’re missing what’s really going on. When Frank Ocean puts out a 17 song mood piece without any singles or songs that anyone besides Frank Ocean fans will listen to, it’ll dominate for a few weeks on release (because 17 tracks count more on streaming than a typical 12 track album), and then go away from the charts, and the label loses.

Frank Ocean and his management will make lots of money on any number of things he chooses to do. He’ll also make more on the payment for exclusivity than he’d likely make on royalties overall.

Look at Kanye as the example. He didn’t care how many streams he got from TLOP, because he’s doing millions $$$ a day in merch and touring, which the label only partially participates in. The album is a brand building exercise for most of these artists now.

I don’t think Beyonce makes her money on Lemonade the LP, but in everything else surrounding it.

These exclusives also affect less than 1% of the music out there.


There’s a much, much, much, much, much, much, much worse problem out there, the same people are behind it, and it’s affecting 100% of the music out there.

Major labels own the playlists. Indies simply do not have access like they do.

Check what happened with Ministry of Sound. One of the strongest indies ever sold to Sony because MoS could not monetize playlists the way they do compilations, and they could not break artists outside of the UK.

Indie artists charting on Spotify are all anomalies. Sure, it happens, but it happens pretty randomly when a song gets hot.

“There’s a much, much, much, much, much, much, much worse problem than exclusives out there… Major labels own the playlists.”

It’s not like the indie label has the promotional power to manufacture a campaign to get that artist playlisted and charting.

At the same time, every single release on certain major labels charts on Spotify because it’s placed directly into the playlists that first give the boost on the debut, and then become feeder for all of the other playlists.

It’s not just about the one big playlist, it’s about the 5000 UGC (user generated content) playlists that come afterwards.

Spotify says 60–90% of total plays come from those UGC playlists.

Spotify works such that the major label-dominated playlists are the gatekeepers to the UGC playlists.


Sure, there are exceptions, there are playlisters that actually just chart what they feel like, but the majority chart stuff from Universal, Sony and Warner.

Indies are powerless. They’re left to leverage better A&R to hope they snag something great before the majors do.

There are solutions to all of this, but nobody in power wants them.

Maybe I’ll write a part two on the solutions, but for now, I recommend enjoying the best content out there, which happens to come from Apple exclusives, educating yourselves on exactly how these services work, and supporting artists you love.

The internet is a democratic tool, and we’re stripping ourselves of our rights by asking people to do everything for us. Demand more from your services, and demand variety.

And next time you see a really, really bad pop star’s new single written by 16 people on the top of New Music Friday, don’t add it to your personal playlist.

Music Business Worldwide

Related Posts

  • Mateja Praznik

    Here’s the thing: Apple Music wouldn’t need any streaming exclusives if the service was better than it currently is. Spotify doesn’t need any exclusive content, because it’s the most user friendly service out there. And I’m writing this as someone who is currently paying for a Apple Music subscription. Spotify isn’t available in my country at the moment, at least not without some tricks. Despite paying for Apple Music, I rarely use it. I prefer Spotify. So, there you have it. No exclusive content can buy my loyalty, I will always go back to the most user friendly streaming service.

  • “Those complaining about exclusives are not participating which means refusing to pay $10 a month for music, so why are we letting them get airtime?”

    Or… they are paying exactly that but for a different service. Probably a better one than Apple Music. Which is why it can be annoying for them.

    This is a massively bad opinion piece.

    “The problem with Spotify is they don’t pay the artists” (most artists unrecouped anyway because of MAJOR LABELS INVESTING IN THEM but whatever).

    “The problem with Tidal is they do pay artists [sort of] but do nothing for fans”. I mean yeah ok that’s true but it’s Tidal ffs. No points for pointing that out.

    “I have no horse in this race”. Riiiiiight. Of course not.

    • Anielle Reid

      I thought his points were really valid. I think he was touching on commerce in our age. Fans need more and more content and value, so just presenting high quality music to fans is not enough in reference to TIDAL. I understand what you are saying regarding annoyance with exclusives as I am a Google Play subscriber and didn’t have access to Beyonce, Drake, Kanye stuff first( not like I missed out on anything:))

  • Vitor Fernandes

    Apple exclusive encourages the use of piracy!

  • hokkos

    Sorry but your disorganized mess of a rant won’t make it to defend exclusive.

    All the additional content has nothing to do with exclusive, each artist can do whatever he want to promote him. Exclusive can’t scale, there is ton of new albums each week, you can’t justify the price to pay to put the spotlight on more than 1 or 2 per week. We don’t care that exclusive are chosen by your friend the cool guy, it hurts every true fan of music that won’t use apple music.

  • Bastow

    A few thoughts:

    “Exclusives provide incredible, unprecedented value for artists + fans;”

    – It doesn’t add value to fans who aren’t signed up to the place the artist has exclusively chosen to distribute their music via a streaming service.

    “Apple is the only company doing this, so this is not a fight against exclusives, this is a fight against Apple”

    – Tidal have ran exclusives; Beyonce, Rhianna, Drake, Kanye

    “He’s building a club, or a “community” as we like to say. Everyone is invited, at a very low cost. If you’re in, you are not complaining about exclusives. Those complaining about exclusives are not participating which means refusing to pay $10 a month for music, so why are we letting them get airtime”

    – You can’t expect people to subscribe to more than one service, there’s too many people out there who still don’t understand streaming and subscribe to one in the first place. What we need to remember is that people spending £120 / $120 a year on a streaming subscription (accounting for trial periods and other offers) is that it’s more than the casual music listener would have spent on recorded music annually prior to streaming even existing.

    “Why are we backing up Spotify here in contrast? They have never invested in artist’s content, and are now renegotiating their rates to pay artists LESS than they already were. Apple is paying higher royalties, and investing tens of millions in content that artists could never create without them”

    – Apple have a bottomless pit of cash to tap into. Apple Music and iTunes before it were loss-leaders, they won’t make any money. Spotify could make money if it spent less on it’s own marketing, however, it’s trying to build a self-sustainable service in delivering innovative products to its users such as Discover Weekly and Release Radar, things that genuinely connect new music to fans and differentiate itself from competing streaming services. Big artists like Drake, Major Lazer are making plenty money from Spotify if they have the right deals with their labels. If they’re not making money, they need to renegotiate with their label.

    “I hate to even mention Tidal, but the simple comparison here is that Tidal is a reductive strategy, withholding the music from anyone who does not subscribe to something unrelated to the consumption of the music, and providing zero added value. Apple always pairs exclusives with some exciting added content. It’s like startup economics, you’re either leveraging equity or cash. Tidal is giving artists equity, but that does not get passed to the fan. Apple is giving artists cash, which gets translated to content, and delivered back to the fan”

    – Apple are paying big sums to artists for these exclusive and not all of that is going to create additional content, it’s lining pockets. Did Drake use the reported $19m to create additional content and produce his OVO show?! Sure, you get some pretty amazing things such as the Romain Gavras directed video for Jamie xx, i suspect the cost, if fully funded by Apple would outweigh the money they’re making off the album streaming and selling on Apple / iTunes.

    “Major labels own the playlists. Indies simply do not have access like they do.”

    – The top playlists are Spotify owned, they’re curated between a cross section between major and indie signed artists. The likes of Hot Hits and Rap Caviar are the biggest hitters and are predominantly major heavy, but that’s because there’s very few indie artists releasing mainstream / commercial pop to fit on Hot Hits.

    “Check what happened with Ministry of Sound. One of the strongest indies ever sold to Sony because MoS could not monetize playlists the way they do compilations, and they could not break artists outside of the UK.”

    – MoS slept on streaming, they replicated what the majors did with Napster back in the day. They spent too long complaining and not enough time trying to innovate and find a solution. Playlists haven’t completely killed the compilation business, Now Thats What’s I Call Music are still going strong and have just launched their own standalone streaming App. We’re being told playlists are going to kill the album too but do we expect artists to stop creating them?!

    “Indie artists charting on Spotify are all anomalies. Sure, it happens, but it happens pretty randomly when a song gets hot. It’s not like the indie label has the promotional power to manufacture a campaign to get that artist playlisted and charting”

    – Same as it ever was, the charts have always been dominated by majors, they have the biggest pot of money to push their artists in all areas.

    “It’s not just about the one big playlist, it’s about the 5000 UGC (user generated content) playlists that come afterwards. Spotify says 60–90% of total plays come from those UGC playlists.”

    – This is true of more established artists, it also comes from tracks saved to people’s library, which you can argue is UGC. For new artists this is the direct opposite, you can expect around 65% of monthly listeners to come from Spotify owned playlists.

    “The internet is a democratic tool, and we’re stripping ourselves of our rights by asking people to do everything for us. Demand more from your services, and demand variety.”

    – Or survival of the fittest which comes from the person with the deepest pockets